A RUINED VILLAGE REVISITED
Extract from Beds. Mercury- 1881.
Two years ago last October there appeared in the local papers a paragraph setting forth in telling language the lamentable condition of the village of Everton in the County of Bedford. This paragraph found its way into the London dailies, and many visitors journeyed to the place to test the accuracy of the report. Amongst those visitors was one of the special Commissioners of Time, who published his observations in the November issue of that journal under the heading of "Where Once a Garden Smiled." This article made a great sensation at the time, and doubtless contributed much to the alteration that has since taken place in the management of the estate. At that time some 600 acres of land had been allowed to all out of cultivation, the grass was growing green in the farmyards, and thistles were so high in some of the fields that a man walking across them would be as completely hidden as though he were in a thick wood. The labourers of the place were compelled to seek employment in the neighbouring parishes, and altogether the village was in as unenviable a plight as possible. One farmstead, that had been destroyed by fire, had not been rebuilt. The cottages, farmhouses, and buildings were in a state of dilapidation, and a general aspect of ruin and decay pervaded the whole place.
The estate, which is vested in the hands of the trustees of two minors, was managed, or rather is managed, by a land agent and a bailiff. These trustees having awoke to the fact that a change o management was the only remedy to prevent the estate falling into irretrievable ruin and decay, appointed to the work of regeneration one John Pallister, a clear-headed, keen North-countryman, hailing from Hardwick, County Durham. To this gentleman I am indebted for permission to go over the place, and for liberty to note my observations. There is probably nothing more interesting in this estate than in hundreds of others. Only that it affords an illustration of how quickly land that has degenerated can be renovated and restored to a higher state of cultivation that it ever before attained.
The estate, or at least that portion of it to which I am referring, consists of about 700 acres of stiff clay land. Standing on the Everton Hill and looking over this land, which stretches away in a westerly direction towards the valley of the Ouse, the prospect in August, 1879, was anything but a pleasant one. Not a single field could be seen that was planted with corn with corn and neither herds nor ploughmen broke the monotony of the landscape. Some fields had been ploughed, but beyond this there was an impression of desolation and neglect, better seen than appreciated. Now as far as the eye could reach the fields are waving with green corn, and seeming to betoken the prospect of an abundant harvest. Upon nearer inspection the distant promise is more than realised. There is one thing that adds much to the general appearance tidiness - that is the well-trimmed fences. I am informed by Mr Walker, the indefatigable and energetic Yorkshire bailiff, who acts as first lieutenant on the estate, that during the period he has been there he has had more than eight miles of the thick, overgrown hedges cut down, and upwards of 3 miles of ditches cleaned out. The whole of the cottages and farmhouses and buildings have been repaired, painted, and whitened. The burnt-down farmyard has been re-built, and the general aspect of the village renovated, and rescued from the ruin and decay of other days.
The barley, of which nearly 100 acres is planted, has just come into ear, and, although somewhat unlevel, is long in the straw, and looks exceedingly promising. Of wheat there is more than 200 acres, in various stages of excellence. Some pieces are short in the ear, and seem to want manure under them to push it along, but in every field there is a full plant, and in some cases the plant is too thick. One field, a piece of white wheat, is by far the best, and looks like producing 40 bushels per acre.
The effect of the late wet season is plainly visible in the furrows, and everywhere where the land was wet the crops are lighter. The oats appear to promise a heavy crop. There is 600 acres of these, of which 30 acres are the Swiss oat, respecting which enquiries have been made in your columns. One piece sown the last week in March is particularly fine and early, and is expected to be ready for the scythe before the end of the month. This variety has never before been grown in this district but, judging by its appearance, it is fully a fortnight earlier than any other kind. The whole of the 30 acres is upon, cold, backward, poor land, but it is believed by the grower that if sown on early, good soil it would produce what it is reputed it will, - two crops in one year. If it does not do this, it will, however, be a useful variety, as it is but a short time on the ground, and gives, therefore a longer time for cleaning the land. The kernel is short and bold, somewhat resembling the Canadian in shape, and the straw is long and the flag broad. As to the yield, no correct judgement can yet be formed but should your correspondent desire more information I can I shall be glad to furnish him with it in the autumn.
Most of the estate has been steam cultivated and fallowed, yet in some cases the crops have been put in after turnips without any cultivation beyond running a Benthall through it and harrowing. The turnip crop has been almost destroyed by the fly, and mangels are very irregular, some of the roots being an inch through and others only just springing up. The grass and clover is light, and the pastures afford but scanty picking for the somewhat large number of cattle grazing. Very little farmyard manure has been used, the scanty supply of straw not enabling much stock to be kept in the yards; a liberal dressing of bones and soot has, however, been given, and where it has been dispensed with the crops are not so good.
Taking the whole of the crops together for land of the same quantity, there is no better to be found, and the agent of the estate considers that he has demonstrated beyond doubt that with judicious farming this land can be cultivated so as to pay. At any rate, whether the farming of this estate is a paying game or not, it is patent that what was two years ago described as a desert, is now productive land, and it is a matter of wonderment that so great a change could be wrought in so short a space of time. There is now only about thirty acres of bare fallow, and most of the remainder of the land is bearing crops the like of which have not been seen upon this land for years, if at all. My curiosity led me to enquire at what cost the improvement had been carried out, and from the balance-sheet placed in my hand it would appear that, taking the growing crops at a valuation of only £4 per acre, there was a considerable balance of profit. The rearing of stock is made a speciality and appears to pay. The cost of working the land is less than it was during the period it was allowed to fall out of cultivation. There is an abundance of winged game, partridges being particularly plentiful and forward. It is also very evident that a less number of rabbits might be kept with advantage. Around one plantation the wheat gave ample proof that ground game and good crops cannot exist contemporaneously. I learn that orders have been given, for a general onslaught to be made upon the furry tribe after harvest., so that this is an evil that may soon be remedied. The labourers here are the greatest drawback. They appear to have degenerated with the land, and take a longer time to effect in them a corresponding improvement. - W. J. Arnold, Potton, in the Agricultural Gazette."
(Beds. Mercury, Saturday, July 30, 1881)